Had a Bad Workout Today? Here’s Why

Ain’t it a bitch when you’re excited for a workout one day, yet it goes horribly? The weights that you normally rep-out on any other day are pinning you down on this certain day. Nothing else quite smacks the ego like a poor workout does.

What explains an unprovoked drop in performance in the weight room? Well, if you’ve got the flu or injured one of your joints, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Barring an injury or illness, there are a few reasons why your workout went down the drain.

Last Night’s Sleep Was Nothing to Brag About

I’ve observed many people stumble into the gym after staying up really late (or for the entire night) and still successfully push through a workout. I’ve observed just as many do the same thing, but fail to complete their workout. They just gas out immediately, and that’s it. Bad workout: 1, lifter: 0.

It’s logical. Sleep provides you with recovery from the previous day and energy for the following day. In fact, less time until exhaustion as well as increased perceived effort is correlated with sleep deprivation (Van Helder et. al). Failing to sleep well the night before isn’t a guarantee for poor performance, but it’s a bet you’re taking against yourself.

You Drank Like a Fish, Ate Like Crap, or Are Dehydrated

If you stayed up all night drinking, I think it’s safe to say you’re not going to be impressive in the gym the next day. Let’s say you drank quite a bit of alcohol earlier in the night and went to bed at a reasonable time. Should you still worry about your workout performance being effected? Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, your “full night of sleep” may very well have been not so restorative and energizing. It appears that heavy alcohol-consumption decreases sleep quality (Carole et. al) (Roehrs, et. al).

Now, I’ve got no evidence for this, but I believe eating a big greasy, unhealthy meal the night before can cause a bad workout, as well. I’ve experienced it a number of times. After getting some chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks, bad things happen in the gym for me. You’d think an excess of food would fuel the following workout! It’s difficult to explain, but my guess that despite this excess food, the quality (or lack of) I consume can make or break a workout. Broscience, yo.

bad workout

This is NOT the recipe for success… (but is the recipe for “Health At Every Size”.)

Now, dehydration is another obvious no-no for gym performance. If you wake up, urinate dark yellow liquid, and head straight to the gym, expect a bad workout. Dehydration negatively affects all aspects of fitness without fail (Judelson et. al).

Your Head’s Not in the Game

The mind is a powerful entity. Mere thoughts can influence the body to perform incredible things. Take the placebo-effect, for example. Simply taking a sugar pill but falsely believing it is medicine can cause someone to experience positive medicinal effects.

If that is possible through the power of thinking, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that mental state can affect physical performance. We’re all aware of the “home court advantage”. You’ve got two rival sports teams facing off at one-or-the-other’s home court/field/stadium/whatever. Despite the physical location of the game having no direct effect on a player’s skill or performance, playing home is still considered an advantage. It’s 100% mental, yet one study found did find an advantage for teams playing at home in college basketball (Harville et. al).

bad workout

Some Italians were having a really bad f*****g day on January 13th, 2012.

So what if you’re not having a good day? Maybe you broke up with you significant other or someone at work put you down. Should you be afraid of having a bad workout (and further ruining your day)? Well, we’ve all seen and heard of athletes/lifters/etc. performing like crap while “not having a good day”. I have a difficult time arguing that mental state has no effect on physical performance.

Doing Your Best to Avoid Bad Workouts

Life happens. Occasionally, we cannot avoid the inevitable and suffer the consequences afterwards. Plenty of people don’t plan on getting piss drunk, binging on fast food, having insomnia, or feeling like a sad panda. We can’t always prevent these events that are pretty negative to our health and performance. Sometimes, avoiding a bad workout is the last thing on our minds.

bad workout

Take heed with an extreme lifestyle, unless you’re Frank Yang. (Notice the bottle of Johnny Walker by his feet.)

Yet, some people do amazingly well at keeping their performance to the max and avoiding bad workouts. Look at professional athletes. These folks train day-in and day-out, and are the best of the best. They surely can’t afford a bad workout. No way.

How do they do it? Well, they do everything they can to keep their bodies as tuned up as possible. This includes: sleeping 9+ hours every night, eating only the best quality foods, not partying or staying out late, avoiding excess booze/drugs/vices, and separating themselves from anything or anyone that may screw with their mental state. Granted, these guys and gals make physical performance their careers. It would be very impractical for a lay-person to mimic this lifestyle.

The takeaway is, however, that you and others can probably improve your lifestyle to prevent bad workouts and mishaps. Some ups and downs in the gym may not mean much to you, but take a look again at the potential causes for a bad workout. All of these are associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. Poor diet, poor sleep, stress – why would you want these things in your life anyway?

In Conclusion

People will experience bad workouts from time-to-time. Poor sleep, poor diet/hydration, excessive alcohol (and other vices), and a poor mental state can screw up your physical performance. If physical performance isn’t a top priority for you, consider the fact that these “causes” may also negatively affect your health in general.


1. Van Helder, T., and M. W. Radomski. “Sleep deprivation and the effect on exercise performance.” Sports Medicine 7.4 (1989): 235-247.

2. Carole, White, et al. “Alcohol increases sleep apnea and oxygen desaturation in asymptomatic men.” The American journal of medicine 71.2 (1981): 240-245.

3. Roehrs, Timothy, and Thomas Roth. “Sleep, sleepiness, and alcohol use.” Alcohol research and Health 25.2 (2001): 101-109.

4. Judelson, Daniel A., et al. “Hydration and muscular performance.” Sports Medicine 37.10 (2007): 907-921.

5. Harville, David A., and Michael H. Smith. “The home-court advantage: How large is it, and does it vary from team to team?.” The American Statistician 48.1 (1994): 22-28.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please solve the question below before continuing. * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.